College Hazelwood case continues

Students appeal to Circuit Court

KENTUCKY — Whether school administrators can control college publications under the 1988 Hazelwood decision, which limits high school students First Amendment rights, is now in the hands of a federal court of appeals.

After a federal district court judge rejected Kentucky State University students1 motion to alter, amend or vacate his November decision that said Hazelwood applies to college publications, they filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in their case Kincaid v. Gibson.

The case began in 1995 after Kentucky State University withheld student yearbooks, tried to control the content of the newspaper and removed the adviser for a short period of time because of her refusal to censor. Students Charles Kincaid and Capri Coffer sued the school claiming the school1s actions were a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The November decision was the first time that a court ruled that the 1988 Supreme Court decision allowed censorship of college student publications.

Federal Judge Joseph Hood ruled in November that the school1s 1994 yearbook was not a “public” forum, therefore it was subject to school censorship under Hazelwood. He wrote that after reviewing the students’ arguments, he did not find his initial decision to be “unsound.”

The students1 had argued that Hazelwood should not apply to them because that case dealt with the high school press. Hood disagreed.

“The Court finds Hazelwood to be the starting point in an analysis of whether a publication is a public forum, regardless of the fact that Hazelwood purely dealt with a high school publication,” he wrote in his decision.

A number of student media and journalism education groups have indicated that they will be filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the students, arguing that Hazelwood should not be extended to college student expression. (See Coalition, page 3.)

The former adviser at Kentucky State, Laura Cullen, had filed her own lawsuit against the school. Her case was dismissed by both the district court and the court of appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review her case in February. The district court had denied her claim stating that even if her students’ First Amendment rights had been violated, hers had not. The appellate court said her case was moot because she was no longer employed by the school.

Briefs in support of the students were due in late May and the school’s brief a month later. Oral argument before the appellate court is not expected before the fall.

reports, Spring 1998